No argument can be made for any of the Belgian Grand Prix podium finishers being counted as a Formula 1 podium finisher, no points should have been awarded, and there should be no acknowledgement that this farcical situation resulted in a competitive result.
Unfortunately, rules are rules, and apparently the rules were satisfied sufficiently for all of the above to happen. Rightly or wrongly (I believe the latter) we had a podium ceremony. George Russell being part of it was the only silver lining to take from a dark day.
“Obviously it’s not the way I’d have liked to have scored my first podium,” Russell admitted. “A little bit of a strange feeling achieving it in this way.
“But we’ve been rewarded for such a fantastic job yesterday.”
All underdog podiums have an element of luck and an element where the underdog puts themself in the position to benefit over others. Russell did that ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel or Pierre Gasly, who all knew after qualifying they could have done better.
The only reason Russell lucked into this podium was because he had earned a ludicrously high position on the grid.
“We don’t often get rewarded for great qualifying but we absolutely did today,” said Russell, who is more used to his Saturday heroics leading into a Sunday slide down the order.
This is not an argument that Russell’s qualifying performance – any qualifying performance – merits a result being handed to somebody in the way it was Sunday.
But it does contribute to Russell’s result feeling less ill-deserved than others. And it leaves a far less sour taste because of the story around it.
If F1’s going to have a podium after THAT…at least this had something about it that took the edge off. Russell’s qualifying upset was one for the ages and Williams, which has the eighth or ninth fastest car and only scored its first points of the season at the previous race in fortunate circumstances, qualified on the front row.
Now Williams has a podium after three years of finishing last in the constructors’ championship and a point-less 2020.
“My whole team deserves it as there has been so much hard work going into it over the last few years and there has not really been anything to show for it or prove it,” said Russell.
“And we absolutely nailed it [in qualifying] and here we are standing on the podium. I can tell you I didn’t expect that this year, that’s for sure.”
That kind of thrill would have been totally absent with a conventional podium in these circumstances.
Imagine a top three of Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. How entirely hollow would that have felt? How awkward would it have been as F1’s three most common faces went through the motions for the umpteenth time?
Russell’s maiden podium took some of the sting away, even it was only brief. It provided a quirky crumb of comfort in an otherwise deeply uncomfortable situation.
His result is about all I can stomach from that race, as I share the view of Vettel, Carlos Sainz and others in lamenting the fact drivers have earned points for what we saw on Sunday.
In fact, I dislike the fact Russell and Williams scored points more than him being classified as a podium finisher.
Williams has now removed 99.99% of the doubt over its eighth place in the constructors’ championship.
This outcome gives it a big swing against Alfa Romeo – 10 points across Russell and Nicholas Latifi, which is the equivalent of Russell hanging on to fifth if the race had happened. That would have been tricky although Russell felt it might have been possible if the race had been held in the wet because of how well Williams was going in those conditions.
Nonetheless it is awkward that a significant championship battle might be settled by such a scenario. It feels a much more tangible and permanent outcome than the podium itself.
These situations are awkward for many people, but some can take joy from them. It’s not a world away from the 2005 United States Grand Prix when Thiago Monteiro celebrated his podium for Jordan after a six-car farce. Monteiro knew that was probably going to be his only ever F1 podium and lapped it up.
His result that day was merited in a small way as he beat the other three backmarkers cars he was racing to the final podium position. So too did Russell’s have an element of merit – greater than Monteiro’s surely, for while Russell never had to turn a racing lap and Monteiro completed a full grand prix, Russell was in position to inherit his podium on merit because of his qualifying performance. He was at the front because he deserved to be there.
To return to an earlier point, this doesn’t mean qualifying should bank a podium, of course.
But if any qualifying effort comes remotely close to justifying a Sunday bounty it’s qualifying the eighth or ninth fastest car on the second row.
Even in the pits of Sunday’s most ridiculous elements, that was something positive to savour – however briefly.